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What determines maize yield?

What determines maize yield?

In Lithuania maize has been grown for more than 60 years. For most people who have nothing to do with agriculture, these plants remind of the Soviet times when one of the leaders of the Soviet Union launched a large-scale maize campaign. Then maize was grown exclusively for fresh mass (silage).

However, much has changed since those times. Climate warming, the breakthrough in genetics (development of new varieties), new agro-technologies and increasing demand have led to the fact that these heat-tolerant plants started to be grown in the non-traditional regions for maize.

These changes have also affected our country where more and more maize is grown not only for forage but also for grain. It has been predicted that in the near future the growing area of these plants will expand further into the Northern regions.

Currently Lithuania is in the transitional maize growing zone but there is still a lack of knowledge considering potential yield of these plants. Nevertheless, the impact of climate change on maize in the nemoral climate zone has been already explored. It has been established earlier that low air temperature, early and late frosts, moisture availability during vegetation and increasingly frequent drought events are the most significant factors limiting maize growth and development.

Yet, there is a paucity of studies where the impact of these factors is quantified. It is still not known what yield potential of grain maize is; what abiotic stresses (e.g. low air temperature, water stress) mostly limit maize growth, what yield losses are caused by unfavourable environmental conditions.

In order to provide answers to these relevant issues, Renaldas Žydelis, a PhD student of Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry, Institute of Agriculture, Department of Plant Nutrition and Agroecology and Dr. Sigitas Lazauskas, head of this department, carried out important research in collaboration with the German colleagues.

The scientists used two different plant models (mathematical software) – AquaCrop and AgroC which allowed them to calculate the potential grain yield, differentiate abiotic factors and quantify their effects on maize growth and development.

AquaCrop is a straightforward model designed mostly for practitioners, while AgroC model is more widely used in research.

“Most of the simulation work was carried out during the internship in collaboration with the German colleagues. To sum up the results, it can be stated that the potential grain maize yield under Lithuanian climatic conditions is approximately 13 t ha-1 (15% grain moisture content).  Low air temperature during vegetation is a major factor limiting maize growth (approximately by 14-25%), while water stress is of secondary importance, and the decrease in the yield due to this stress varied from 4 to 17%” – says Renaldas Žydelis.

The data collected during the PhD studies of Renaldas Žydelis have been published in the high-ranking scientific journal  “Agriculture and Forest Meteorology” available at: